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Supreme Court Refuses Pinochet Immunity

March 25, 2005

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Chile’s Supreme Court on Thursday refused to strip Gen. Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution, blocking yet another attempt to try him for alleged human rights abuses during his dictatorship.

The Court’s 15-4 vote rejected a lower court ruling that would have stripped the 89-year-old former ruler of the legal immunity he enjoys as former president.

In announcing its decision the Supreme Court did not immediately publish the text of its ruling, which is believed to be based mainly on Pinochet’s deteriorated health.

On Dec. 2, the Santiago Court of Appeals had voted 14-9 to strip Pinochet of immunity at the request of Judge Alejandro Solis, who is investigating the Sept. 1974 assassination in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires of Gen. Carlos Prats, Pinochet’s predecessor as army commander.

Prats had opposed the Sep. 11, 1973 coup that ushered Pinochet to power for 17 years. Prats and his wife Sophia Cuthbert, who had sought asylum in Argentina, were killed when a bomb blew up their automobile as they arrived at their home.

The investigation in Argentina traced the killing to Pinochet’s security service.

Thursday’s decision did not end Pinochet’s legal troubles, though, as he is currently being tried in the case known as Operation Condor, a joint plan developed by the South American military dictatorships of the 1970s to eliminate dissidents.

In addition, another judge is investigating the disclosure that he kept secret multi million dollar accounts at banks in the United States.

Pinochet still also faces more than 200 criminal suits stemming from the massive human rights abuses during his 1973-90 dictatorship, and while on some occasions the courts have pronounced him unfit to stand trial on health grounds, he has been tried and held under house arrest twice. One trial was finally dropped, because of his health, and one is still developing.

Pinochet has been diagnosed a mild case of dementia, suffers from diabetes and arthritis and has a pacemaker.

According to an official report by the civilian government that succeeded Pinochet, 3,190 people were killed for political reasons during his long reign.